Trio cook up cash to raise awareness of men’s health issues in Movember

Top Hong Kong chefs have raised more than HK$17,000 so far this year

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 November, 2016, 12:02am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 November, 2016, 12:02am

Customers wondered why acclaimed British chef Nathan Green shaved his signature beard on the first day of this month. Then he told them how he struggled with depression throughout his 20s.

Green and two other highly respected names on the local culinary scene, Uwe Opocensky and Shane Osborn, have been sporting moustaches and raising funds for Movember, an annual global event that challenges men to keep their whiskers for all of ­November to raise awareness about men’s health issues. To participate, “Mo Bros” have to start the month clean shaven, then grow their moustaches.

For the three Michelin-starred chefs, Movember and fine dining are not dissimilar in that they often bring people together for important conversations.

So far this year, the Movember Foundation has raised more than HK$200 million in donations worldwide, with Hong Kong ranking 11th among the participating 22 countries and territories with over HK$1 million raised.

The three chefs together have raised more than HK$17,000 so far this year.

Hong Kong men, it’s time to let the ‘mo’ grow for good causes

“Movember is all about getting people to talk about men’s health issues,” 34-year-old Green said. “Men’s health is something that gets swept under the carpet as we don’t like to talk about it.”

Green, the owner of Rhoda, a premium restaurant at Sai Ying Pun, said he had been battling ­depression for more than 15 years.

He said the demanding workload in the kitchen and the harsh criticism chefs face every day could easily push them over the edge of depression.

Green said many of the top chefs he knows have struggled with depression.

“Cooking is very personal,” he said. When he was a young cook he felt compelled to “prove everyone wrong” in their criticism, which made him work ­seven days a week and 17 hours a day.

“I was diagnosed with depression when I was 21,” he said. However he was too caught up in his work to find time to take medication, and this only ­worsened his condition and led him to becoming ­extremely harsh with staff.

“One of my staff was sobbing in the kitchen and I started shouting at him,” he said. “I was ripping the guy apart before I found out that his mother had ­earlier been diagnosed with cancer.”

He was caught in a vicious cycle where he could not afford time off to relax because he ran constantly short of staff.

“I had no staff because I was the world’s biggest dick and couldn’t control my temper.”

Shane Osborn, aged 46, who was the first Australian chef to receive Michelin stars at French ­restaurant Pied a Terre in London, runs a solo venture, Arcane, in Central.

He said “getting butch, macho men to talk about men’s health issues” is personal to him ­because his father died of cancer, when it could have been ­avoided.

“My dad died of cancer around the same age I am now. His cancer could have been treated if only he’d sought medical attention,” he said.

‘Grow a mo, save a bro’: Hongkongers sport moustaches for a good cause

“My father ignored all signs of his illness. There was blood in his urine and he ignored it. I know it can be avoided because his sister who got the exact same disease has been cured.”

He said men are often unwilling to show any sign of vulnerability and believe they are invincible. ­Osborn has raised more than HK$10,000 this Movember, which makes him 23rd locally in terms of the most money raised.

But when asked if he would be keeping his ­whiskers after Movember ends, Osborn gave a ­resounding no.

“Keeping a moustache in the kitchen is not a good idea,” he said. “It gets sweaty ... and food may get stuck in it.”

Opocensky, the former executive chef at the ­Mandarin Oriental and the current executive chef at Beef & Liberty, Lan Kwai Fong, said the beauty of Movember lies in the fact that it unites people.

“I am from Germany. And Movember has brought the three chefs from all different countries together,” he said, adding the event is similar to ­dining in that it is a vehicle for people to engage in conversation.

“[Keeping a moustache] is just one simple gesture which could get men to start talking about their ­problems. We are all doing it for a noble cause.”

While Opocensky and Osborn were joining the campaign for the first time this year, Green has been involved in the fundraiser twice before.

The chefs are impressed by the sum of money they have raised, especially considering the size of Hong Kong and how Movember is not so popular among Asians.

“Movember has a harder time to catch on here,” Green said. “Many of the locals here might have a ­difficult time relating to it because it is difficult for them to grow a moustache within a month.”